An enchanting destination with so much to do, but choose wisely!
Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake and also the most popular with 27 million visitors a year and counting! Prized as an accessible holiday spot for tourists from northern Europe, Lake Garda has adapted to tourism like a fish to water so you'll spot many menus and signs in German, English and Italian on her sunny shores.
Whilst the well-loved lake is easily to reach by car from Verona's Valerio Catullo Airport or Orio al Serio in Bergamo (Ryan Air's busy hub near Milan), the winding shore-side roads were never meant for major traffic and although driving Lake Garda remains our favourite way to truly appreciate every delightful town, if you love space to stroll, lounge on quiet piazzas and drive the Bond-famous roads without traffic, it makes sense to pick your holidays well for the best time to visit Lake Garda.
Always balmy and warm?
Almost! There are few months here that temperatures drop just below zero, unlike the rest of northern Italy. Lake Garda is protected by high mountains which narrow at the lake's northern tip resulting in milder days but windy afternoons.
In winter, from November to February, temperatures may dip to below freezing at night but rarely during the day. It's cold and misty in these months which might be deemed as dark and damp but Christmas traditions and spa hotels keep the place alive and warm with tradition, good food and friendly feasts and suddenly Lake Garda returns to her locals once again! They celebrate the season with family time, truffle hunting, winter preparations and Christmas festivities.
Weather-wise, Lake Garda is hottest in July and August and also the busiest.
With Italian school holidays spanning across three months, from early June every town and hamlet begins to bustle with tourist attention.
September remains warm and a relatively rain-free month with average highs of 25ºC. It's wonderfully balmy at night - perfect for lazy 'al-fresco' dinners by the water. But as an attractive off-peak season boasting good weather at lower prices, more and more visitors opt for their lake holiday towards the end of summer and September becomes a busy month nevertheless.
October is a lovely time of year to visit Lake Garda as the countryside slides into autumn and the mountain forests become sources of foraged foods like wild Finferli and Porcini mushrooms. This is the time when orti are harvested and prepared for winter crops, vegetables are pickled, tomato passata bottled and preserves made for the year ahead. It's a busy time in the kitchen, but not so much in the hospitality sector - maybe this is a good thing! Many hotels and agriturismi stay open until November and if you're a foodie and love to get stuck into regional foods, I'd recommend October as a cooler (19ºC average high) and calmer month to visit Lake Garda. The lake becomes misty and you won't get a suntan but autumn in Italy - food wise is something extraordinarily special and not to be missed.
The best time to visit Lake Garda depends on what you intend to do on your trip:
If you're sporty and are planning an active break, hiking is abundant on the northern shores especially. With trails running from low to high altitudes, your perfectly milder hiking months are April and October.
If you're a water and wind enthusiast, Garda has some of the best windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing near Torbole. According to the Sailing Centre, the best months to visit are March to October when the south wind 'Ora' whips up the afternoons due to thermal pressure.
If you're a skier or snowboarder, from Christmas to March the Malcesine Cableway lifts you to Monte Baldo's snowy slopes for 40km of action-packed fun.
If you're a foodie, you can't beat a local sagra. Lake Garda's autumnal months span into one long food feast kicking off with Ciottolando con Gusto where the quaint town of Malcesine buzzes with food, music and wine on the 23rd and 24th of September.
The Truffle Festival in Tignale takes place on the last week of September/first of October with guided truffle hunting walks and cooking demonstrations.
Festa del'Uva e del Vino celebrates Lake Garda's most celebrated of wines in Bardolino from the 3rd to 7th of October while the Lazise Honey Festival presents one of Italy's most important from 29th September to 1st October.
The months of autumn are so 'foodie' here, that 'Mese del Gusto' has put together a collection of local sagre and food happenings with all kinds of activities like cooking classes or chestnut and walnut hikes. See their page for events during these few delicious months.
If you're a thrill-seeker, Gardaland is Italy's biggest theme park with manicured gardens and ample rides, it's huge but gets incredibly packed from June to September. October is a good month to visit, as is April, when Gardaland Park and Gardaland Sea Life Aquarium are open but to experience their Legoland Waterpark, you must visit from mid-May to mid-September.
If you're here to explore pretty towns, soak up some sun, eat good food and visit a Roman ruin or Venetian palazzo (and you're driving), the best time to visit Lake Garda is May.
You'll find enough town parking and romantically-curving roads, lemon orchards and calm, cypress-lined beaches, castles, lake-side trattorie, menus brimming with local pesce and wines you'll be drinking all day on sunny piazze with hosts welcoming you warmly for another summer season about to begin.
If you can't get away in May, try October and remember, most of Lake Garda's restaurants and hotels are closed before Easter. May's temperatures are lovely and warm at 22ºC and although it can be wet, the days tend to be warm and breeze-free.
We visited once in March and it was pretty chilly, albeit bright, as you can see from our coats and boots! So always come equipped with layers.
'Dress like an onion' they say in Italy - vestirsi a cipolla.